One Tameh when Wet

Nidah (7:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 months ago

The seventh perek opens by listing objects that are sources of tumah both when they are moist and dry (blood from a nidah or corpse) and those that are only sources of tumah when they are moist (zov, spittle, a sheretz, a nevilah and shichvat zera). The Mishnah continues that if the dry objects could be soaked in water for twenty-four hours and return to their original state, then they are tameh both moist and dry. We shall try to understand this qualification.

The simple understanding of the Mishnah is that if they can be affected by the soaking, then they would be tameh even when dry. This is indeed how the Meiri understands the Mishnah.

The Mishnah Achrona continues that the ruling in this Mishnah should not be confused with another Mishnah we have learnt. Recall that the Mishnah (Taharot 3:4) taught that if a kezayit from a neveilah was left in the sun and shrunk, then it would no longer be a source of tumah. If it however then rained and swelled to the size of a kezayit it would once again be source of tumah. Note that in that Mishneh the piece of the neveilah was not a source of tumah when it shrivelled, despite the fact that soaking it in water would return it to the minimum size that would once again make it a source of tumah. The Mishnah Achrona explains that in that case, when it shrunk below the size of a kezayit it was no longer a source of tumah. In our case however, when the source of tumah dried, if soaking it would return it to its original state, then it is not yet considered yavesh (dry) and still considered lach (moist). In other words, we understand that when the Torah taught that these items are not tameh when yavesh, it was not referring objects in this state, but only if dried out beyond recovery.

When the Rambam however teaches this law, he writes as follows (Mishkav U'Moshav 2:1): "if they can be soaked for twenty-four hours, and returned to their original state, then they are tameh when moist. It would appear that according to the Rambam, these objects would still only be sources of tumah when moist. It seems that the Rambam had a different reading of the Mishnah. In other words, the requirement of soaking for twenty-four hours is that they must return to the original state within twenty-four hours in order to still be a source of tumah when moist1. One might then suggest that the Rambam understands these objects are only ever sources of tumah when moist amd can lose their capacity to be sources of tumah if dried out too much. Accordingly, this case would then align with the case of the shrinking and swelling neveilah cited by the Mishnah Achrona above.

Nevertheless, the Chazon Yechezkel (Nidah 6:5) understands the Rambam differently. He suggests that the Rambam understands that if part of, e.g., dried the neveilah was soaked and returned to its original state, then even the dried part that was not soaked would also be tameh. It appears then that a sample must be taken. This understanding aligns closer to the Mishnah Achrona, that the neveilah can be tameh when dry. The Rambam differs in that since it is dry, to break the chazaka that the dried neveilah is too dry, a sample must be taken.

Yisrael Bankier

1 See the Chatam Sofer (Nidah 44b).

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